"Make the most you can of the Indian Hemp seed and sow it everywhere." -President George Washington, 1794
On April 30, 1789, George Washington, standing on the balcony of
Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York, took his oath of office as the first
President of the United States. "As the first of every thing, in our situation
will serve to establish a Precedent," he wrote James Madison, "it is devoutly
wished on my part, that these precedents may be fixed on true principles."
Born in 1732 into a Virginia planter family, he learned the morals, manners and
body of knowledge requisite for an 18th century Virginia gentleman.
He pursued two intertwined interests; military arts and western expansion. At age 16
he helped survey Shenandoah lands for Thomas, Lord Fairfax. Commissioned a
lieutenant colonel in 1754 he fought the first skirmishes that developed into the
French and Indian War. The next year as an aide to Gen. Edward Braddock, he
escaped injury although four bullets ripped his coat and two horses were shot
from under him.
From 1759 to the outbreak of the American Revolution, Washington managed his
lands around Mount Vernon and served in the Virginia House of Burgesses. Married
to the widow Martha Dandridge Custis, he devoted himself to a busy and happy life.
Like his fellow planters Washington felt himself exploited by British
merchants and hampered by British regulations. As the quarrel with the mother
country grew acute he moderately but firmly voiced his resistance to the
When the Second Continental Congress assembled in Philadelphia in May 1775,
Washington (one of the Virginia delegates) was elected Commander in Chief of the
Continental Army. On July 3, 1775 at Cambridge Massachusetts, he took command
of his ill-trained troops and embarked upon a war that was to last six grueling
Washington realized early that the best strategy was to harass the British. He reported
to Congress, "We should on all occasions avoid a general action, or put anything
to the risque, unless compelled by a necessity, into which we ought never to be
drawn." Ensuing battles saw him fall back slowly, then strike unexpectedly.
Finally in 1781 with the aid of French allies--he forced the surrender of
Cornwallis at Yorktown.
Washington longed to retire to his fields at Mount Vernon. He soon realized
that the Nation under it's 'Articles of Confederation' was not functioning well; and
he became a prime mover in the steps leading to the Constitutional Convention at
Philadelphia in 1787. When the new Constitution was ratified the Electoral
College unanimously elected Washington as President.
George Washington did not infringe upon the policy making powers that he felt the Constitution
gave Congress. The determination of foreign policy became preponderantly a
Presidential concern. When the French Revolution led to a major war between
France and England Washington refused to accept the recommendations of
his Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson (pro-French) or his
Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton (pro-British). Rather, Washington
insisted upon a neutral course until the United States could grow stronger.
Washington was disapointed in the two parties that had developed by the end of his first term.
Feeling old and wearied of politics, he retired at the end of his second term. He urged his countrymen to forswear excessive party spirit and
geographical distinctions in his Farewell Address. He warned against long-term
alliances in foreign affairs.
Washington died of a throat infection in less than three years after retirement at Mount Vernon: December 14, 1799.